California at center of latest push for science-based reading approaches

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Dive Brief:

  • Tucked in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed education budget is $1 million to develop a Literacy Roadmap that would include “explicit instruction in phonics, phonemic awareness, and other decoding skills, as well as development of vocabulary, comprehension, writing, speaking, and listening skills.”
  • Separately, the National Student Support Accelerator conducted research into a kindergarten literacy tutoring program that provides “short bursts” of instruction in phonics and reading fluency, finding students who participated were over two times more likely than their peers to reach a targeted reading stage at the end of the year.
  • In an effort to boost academic outcomes and make up for pandemic learning losses, local and state school systems are evaluating current literacy instructional methods, reviewing achievement data, and advocating for curriculum and instruction that are aligned with science-based reading approaches. 

Dive Insight:

There’s momentum driving the adoption of strategies for teaching foundational reading skills, including the emphasis on skills needed to sound out letters to make words, learn sight words and read fluently. It’s difficult, however, to quickly switch from one approach to another. What and how to teach and how and when to conduct professional development are just a few of the details to sort out.

In California, state leaders set a goal that, by 2026, all students will read by the 3rd grade. That effort is being driven by a statewide literacy task force, whose work will include consideration of reading research for all students, including English learners, those with disabilities, struggling readers and young students. 

When students don’t learn to read by third grade, they are at greater risk to drop out of school and end up in the criminal justice system,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, in a Jan. 10 statement. 

Disappointing results from reading assessments over the past few years are helping to fuel a new focus on reading instruction. While some research shows recent year-over-year reading proficiency increasing, a recent Amplify analysis of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) performance outcomes finds 32% of kindergartners this school year are behind in reading and are in need of intensive interventions

Also driving new attention and investments into reading instruction are significant amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funds. Several state agencies plus 35 of the nation’s 100 largest school districts planned to use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for literacy training, researchers from FutureEd at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy told K-12 Dive last fall.

North Carolina, for example, set aside $12 million of the state’s ESSER share for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS. The funding will go toward a professional development course for elementary educators to support their knowledge of the foundations for reading instruction, including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing and language.

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